‘A breath of life’: Away from war, Syrians find their rhythm in ballroom dancing

21 June 2022, 13:24

Couples dance at a club in Damascus, Syria
Syria Ballroom Dancing. Picture: PA

With pandemic restrictions now mostly lifted, students have returned to class, looking for a brief respite.

Adnan Mohammed teaches Latin dance for an hour a week in a Damascus studio, helping his students at least briefly forget the troubles of war.

For young Syrian men and women who come to his class, ballroom dancing is a form of release, finding their rhythm in music away from their country’s many social and economic pressures.

“They come out a different person,” Mr Mohammed, 42, says.

Instructor Adnan Mohammed, right, teaches a class in the basics of Latin dancing, helping his students forget the troubles of war - if even briefly - in Damascus, Syria
Instructor Adnan Mohammed, right, teaches a class the basics of Latin dancing in Damascus, Syria (Omar Sanadik/AP)

For that one hour, they push Syria’s 11-year war from their minds, the politics, the anxiety over the economic crisis and the country’s constantly depreciating currency.

“They put that energy aside and they start to be optimistic,” Mr Mohammed added.

“I believe we are giving them the energy to stay in the country. Now there is a reason for them to stay.”

Syria’s war, which erupted in 2011 following a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests, has killed more than half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

With the military help of allies Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Assad has managed to crush the armed uprising against him except for a few areas that remain outside of government control.

For the past several years, conflict lines have been largely frozen, but the war has wreaked unfathomable destruction on the country.

A couple dance at a club in Damascus, Syria
A couple dance at a club in Damascus (Omar Sanadik/AP)

A severe economic crisis has set in, with many barely managing to make ends meet.

Mr Mohammed, who opened a dance school 15 years ago, says people still kept coming to his classes throughout the war.

But the biggest blow was when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down, even his studio.

With pandemic restrictions now mostly lifted, students have returned to class, looking for a brief respite, a temporary escape.

“People are exhausted nowadays, we can sense a lot of frustration,” said Yara Zarin, an engineer who is also an instructor at the Dance Nation School, where Mr Mohammed teaches.

Zarin explains that the school’s goal is not to have their students disconnect from reality but to provide the space where, for “an hour or two … you can be yourself”.

The dance schools offer classes during the week but also dance parties.

A couple dance as they train at a dance studio in Damascus, Syria
A couple train at a dance studio in Damascus (Omar Sanadik/AP)

Small performances have made a comeback in the country recently, particularly in and around Damascus.

Last month, a techno dance party organised at an abandoned cement factory just outside Damascus attracted hundreds of youngsters.

Complete with a laser show, music and dancing, it was one of the biggest such events since the war started.

Ballroom dancing schools were popular before the war among some segments of society, including three large schools in Damascus that have withstood the war.

For student Amar Masoud, the dance classes are a “breath of life”.

“Sometimes, I end up missing classes because I have to work,” he says.

“But I still try as much as possible to” come to the school.

Couples dance at a club in Damascus, Syria
Couples dance at a club in Damascus (Omar Sanadik/AP)

Mr Mohammed has a second day job to keep up with expenses.

He pleads for government support to help bring back dance to a more organised setting and to how it was before the war.

The dance instructor dreams of representing Syria in international events.

“There needs to be a federation created just for dance so that this can be like before the war, where we would go and represent Syria in Arab and Asian countries,” he said.

For Maya Marina, 30, dancing is a desperately needed outlet from war and hardship for her.

“Music takes us to another world,” she says.

“Here I blow off steam, it’s a respite from the pressures, the anger, the difficulties.”

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Smoke rises from building

Russian missiles target Kyiv as troops consolidate gains in the east

Climate activists in rally

Climate club: How Germany hopes to keep G7 leaders’ focus on the environment

The incident happened in the town of East London in Eastern Cape

At least 17 young people found dead in South African nightclub

Pro-choice supporters

Abortion rights supporters and opponents map next move

Migrants at Spanish border

Death toll from ‘stampede’ at Spanish border in Morocco climbs to 23

A boy holds his pet dog as his family evacuated from the war-hit area gets on an evacuation train in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, June 25, 2022

Russia edges closer to swallowing up Ukraine’s last remaining Luhansk stronghold

US Rep Mary Miller, of Illinois, speaks as former President Donald Trump stands behind her on stage at a rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon on Saturday

Congresswoman calls removal of abortion rights a ‘victory for white life’

Russia Ukraine War

Russia pushes to block second city in eastern Ukraine

President Joe Biden waves to the media as he walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

Biden arrives in Europe ahead of G7 and Nato summits

Chicago police at the scene where a five-month-old girl was shot and killed in the South Shore neighbourhood of Chicago

Five-month-old girl shot dead in car in Chicago

Tourists fill plastic bottles with water from a public fountain at the Sforzesco Castle in Milan, Italy

Milan to turn off fountains as drought hits Italy

A photo of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

Seven accusers write to Ghislaine Maxwell’s sentencing judge

Vitali Klitschko

European mayors duped into calls with impostor posing as Kyiv’s Vitali Klitschko

People lay flowers at the scene of a shooting in central Oslo, Norway

Gunman kills two during Oslo Pride festival

Activists from Oxfam wear giant heads depicting G7 leaders during a demonstration in Munich, Germany

Protesters gather as G7 leaders set to arrive in Germany

The Brit fell from the Devil's Pass in northern Spain

Brit, 25, falls to his death climbing over Spain's notorious 'Devil's Pass'